Holiday Depression and Tips on Getting Through the Holidays After a Loved One Dies
Dear April Masini,
My brother was killed in the World Trade Towers on September 11th, and every Christmas since then, I get really depressed, because he’s not here with the rest of the family. How can I get through this Christmas?"
April Masini's Advice :
Dear Holiday Depression,
Losing a brother – or anyone – to an act of violence like the terror at the Twin Towers – is life changing. That you lost a family member – someone you grew up with and spent every day and night with as a child, makes the loss even more profound. Not getting to say goodbye --and coping with them being ripped out of your life suddenly, without warning, is something that is very difficult to get over, let alone to understand. So what do you do to get through this Christmas, and every other holiday, when your family is together, and you’re reminded of the loss of your brother because he’s missing from the family celebration?
The Importance of Grieving: Allow yourself to grieve. Pain of loss is very hard to allow. Sometimes we do all kinds of things to avoid feeling the pain. We distract ourselves. We numb ourselves. We pretend to ourselves. We sublimate our feelings and work very hard so we don’t have to have discomfort and sadness. There are all kinds of coping mechanisms we use to avoid feeling pain. But, ultimately, the only way to get passed pain is not around it, but through it. And it doesn't go away. It waits for you to deal with it. In fact, most cultures and religions have rituals that help communities cope with death and loss, and if you are lucky enough to have a culture or religion that helps you grieve, this is a time to embrace it.
It’s easier to escape into work or exercise or eating or to focus on other problems that we invent or embellish to avoid a profound and hurtful sadness, during the rest of the year, but at holidays like Christmas, where families come together for a prolonged period of time that is either a weekend or a week or more, and when businesses shut down, and there is spiritual focus at church, and it is apparent that other families are celebrating together as a family, it is harder to avoid your feelings of loss because someone is missing from your family and you can't get him back.
Allow the feelings you and your family are having to be part of your life. Let go.
Celebrate The Memories:
Memorialize your brother. Have a ceremony to invoke your brother’s memory. Invite family and friends to listen and speak about your brother and what they remember, what they loved, and what they miss about him. Either have a private memorial service or a formal memorial service or have your religious leader – whether it’s a priest, a rabbi, or some other leader, to invoke your brother’s memory at church or synagogue during a part of the holiday prayers. Many religions honor the dead as part of the normal holiday time. If your local religious leader is made aware of your family’s loss, he or she will make a formal pronouncement of your brother’s memory. This gives your brother’s memory a place, not just in your family’s life, but in your community’s life. It gives dignity to the loss. It also allows you to share your loss with other people, which is healing.
Revere Life Now:
Remember what your brother loved and celebrate his life by incorporating his loves into your own life. Allow his spirit to fan the flame of your own. Remember that life is precious and that all life ends, sometimes too soon, and sometimes after a long period of time, sometimes with no warning, and sometimes with warning that makes goodbyes all the more painful. Celebrate what you are given while you’re here. Allow your brother's death to make you aware of how precious your own is. Spend more time telling people you love that you love them, and doing good deeds throughout each day.
Make someone else’s life more fortunate, whether it’s someone you know or someone you don’t know. Give something, whether it’s time as a Big Brother or Big Sister or some other kind of mentor; or help someone who’s old or in need. You can also donate money or time or old clothes and toys or a car you don't drive any more, or help victims of other disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the families of U.S. soldiers who lost their loved ones serving our country. Affirm your brother’s life by affirming someone else’s life.
Celebrate The Holidays With A Deeper Meaning:
Allow the holidays and your brother's loss to remind you of what is important. Don't sweat the small stuff and slow down to spend time with people as you remember that time passes and you can spend it doing meaningful things, or allowing it pass without conscious choice. Choose to live your life well -- for your brother.